Adolescent Egocentrism

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated August 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

As children's brains mature, they might experience a shift in a perspective called adolescent egocentrism. During this time, you may notice them centering themselves at the expense of others. While this can be a challenging phase to deal with as a parent, it is one of the normal adolescent behaviors. Learning more about adolescent egocentrism and how to manage the typical adolescent behaviors that can come with it may benefit you as you support your teen.

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Parenting Challenges May Feel Isolating

What Is Adolescent Egocentrism?

Egocentrism refers to centering oneself one's needs and one’s own feelings, often at the expense of others. Some young people may go through a period where they exhibit egocentric tendencies, called adolescent egocentrism. 

Egotistical Vs. Egocentric

While egotistical and egocentric may sound similar, they're not the same term. An egotistical person may only think highly of themselves, while an egocentric person might center themselves without considering other views. 

The term adolescent egocentrism was developed by the child psychologist Dr. David Elkind. Dr. Elkind studied adolescents ranging from 11-18 years old, focusing on how they perceived the world compared to their adult counterparts. 

Dr. Elkind discovered that teenagers often could not differentiate between their perceptions and the perceptions of others. Teenagers consistently believed their view was the only possible, and all other ideas were false or nonexistent, resulting in adolescent egocentrism.

Parenting And Egocentrism In Teens 

Adolescent egocentrism can be a difficult stage for parents. The adolescent egocentrism stage may be characterized by arguing, demanding, entitled behavior, or frequent emotional outbursts. Some parents may feel their children have developed a new personality, citing a rise in aggression, argumentativeness, or stubbornness.

If your child's personality or behaviors change, you may feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or lonely. If you feel this way, you are not alone. Parents can struggle in various ways during adolescent brain development, and adolescent egocentrism can be confusing for someone who hasn't seen it before.

Is Egocentrism Permanent? 

It might seem that your child's adolescent egocentrism won’t end. However, this developmental stage can be beneficial to your child and may not last forever. Although some adults continue to behave in egocentric ways, many teens could grow up to appreciate what they learned in their younger years.  

Adolescents tend to grow out of this phase, and your adolescent’s preoccupation with their own perceptions is likely not a permanent personality trait, but rather a normal part of developmental psychology for a young person.

Does Egocentrism Cause Risky Behavior? 

You might feel your child is engaging in risky or extreme behaviors as they age. Adolescent egocentrism results in a decrease in accuracy in assessing risk and danger in some cases. For this reason, adolescents may behave as though they are invincible. This common adolescent belief may lead them to partake in risky behaviors such as driving without a seatbelt, going out late with friends, indulging in alcohol consumption, or attending risky parties. 

Talking to your teen about safety, responsibility, and self-care could benefit them during this time. Although not all teens experience these challenges, they may know a peer who does. Ensuring your teen is educated about safety could keep them safe and prevent them from unnecessary risk-taking. 

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Effects Of Egocentrism In Adolescents

Adolescent egocentrism has also been titled "the imaginary audience" or "the personal fable." These names may be given to illustrate that teenagers during the stage of adolescent egocentrism might believe themselves to be the focus of everyone's attention. Teens may feel this way even if they struggle with self-esteem and self-consciousness. They could believe they are being spoken about in every room or that a minor mistake could end their social life. 

For this reason, during this time of adolescent egocentrism, some individuals might struggle to open up socially, as they may believe their peers are closely monitoring and judging their every move. Others might act out in loud, aggressive, and explosive displays, attempting to maintain control or reject vulnerability. 

The "Imaginary Audience" 

The so-called "imaginary audience" may feel like the whole world to a teen but might only be composed of their own peers from school. Teens might strive to impress one another, sometimes through "daring" feats or falsehoods designed to make them appear trendy, cool, or unique. The imaginary audience is often somewhat responsible for teenagers' personality traits and desires and attempts to embody personal uniqueness. Sometimes, a tool called the Imaginary Audience Scale is used by mental health professionals to evaluate adolescents’ concerns about being judged by an imaginary audience. It’s likely that imaginary audiences played a significant role in many people’s adolescent years.

The "Personal Fable" 

The "personal fable" describes the unrealistic way teenagers may view themselves and the world around them. Adolescents’ belief that the world is small or confined to their city and school can be considered part of the personal fable. They may fail to understand success and failure on a more significant scale. 

A minor setback may feel like "the end of the world" to a teen. Although a parent might know this is untrue, they can support their teen by meeting them where they're at and validating their emotional response. Telling teenagers that they're being unrealistic, silly, or confusing could make them feel more distressed. 

How Can Parents Manage Adolescent Egocentrism In A Positive Way?

As a parent, you might forget your teenage years (sometimes called the formal operational stage)or how you may have practiced or viewed adolescent egocentrism. Handling your child's behaviors might be best approached through an empathetic and understanding lens, even if it feels challenging. Try the following techniques for managing your child's behavior during early adolescence and beyond.

Connect With Your Kids 

Connecting with your children might feel challenging, but take any opportunity to find ways to bond. If your child loves modern dance, consider taking them to a performance. If your teen is amazed by the deep ocean, visit a local museum or aquarium together. Finding any way to connect with your children can help you feel empathetic and loving toward them. 

Think Of Your Own Childhood 

You might not have had similar stressors as a teen that your children have now, but you could relate to some aspects. For example, perhaps there was a particular fashion fad at your school that everyone participated in to look "cool." That can be an example of the "imaginary audience" trope that is frequently a part of formal operational thought. Remembering your journey may help you develop empathy toward your children during the adolescent egocentrism stage. 

Consider That This May Be Temporary 

This stage of development may seem to stretch on. However, adolescence will someday pass, like other developmental periods and adolescents will become young adults in time. Your child may emerge healthier if the stage is handled with grace, understanding, and kindness. 

Introduce New Ideas 

Children may broaden their horizons when exposed to unique ideas alternate worldviews, and abstract thinking, so continue introducing them to new types of music, cultural ideas, and experiences. Although these steps might not immediately eradicate the presence of egocentrism, they can help teenagers realize that they are not alone in the world and that other cultures exist.

If you can, traveling or volunteering with your teen might help them make this realization. For example, you could try a charity outing in a larger city to bring sandwiches to those experiencing homelessness or volunteer in a soup kitchen. Or you could visit a museum that discusses a tragic world event and show your teen how historic teens handled these experiences. 

If you visit another country, your teen could see that adolescents in different cultures may value different foods, cultural ideas, and languages. They might learn that their community is not the only one in the world and discover that their own knowledge may be limited.

Offer Support 

Studies show that children require the unconditional love and support of their parents. Although you might not agree with everything your teenager says or does, you may choose to demonstrate that your love and acceptance are not conditional.

Get Support From Other Adults 

Connecting with your parents and discovering how they helped or hindered your cognitive development during this stage could also be helpful. Digging into your own experiences may help you learn more about your child and what they might be going through from a parent's perspective. It could also lend insight into how you were treated as a teenager and how that treatment during adolescence has shaped you into adulthood.

You may also find talking to friends going through the same thing helpful. Parental connections may help you feel less alone in your feelings and develop techniques by discussing ideas with another parent.

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Parenting Challenges May Feel Isolating

You Don't Have To Face Parenting Alone 

Parenting can feel rewarding, but it may also prove challenging. Some parents worry they are not acting healthily, and others find it difficult to manage emotions that form because of their child's behavior. No matter the case, individual, group, or family therapy may help you learn ways to manage these challenges. 

Working hard to be a healthy parent to your child can make it challenging to fit in time for yourself. Online therapy can make attending appointments more available; Instead of traveling to an office, you can attend your appointments anywhere you have a solid internet connection.

You'll go out of your way to strengthen your bond with your child. Adolescent psychology through online therapy may also make it easier for you and your child to connect on a meaningful level. A study has shown that online therapy can feel more personal than traditional therapy. 96% of people in the study reported feeling a personal connection with their online therapists as opposed to 91% who saw face-to-face therapists. The first group was also more invested in completing homework the therapists assigned them, leading them to make real-life changes. 

If you or your teen is interested in trying online counseling, platforms like BetterHelp are available for those over 18, and TeenCounseling is available for those under 18. Overall, online platforms offer a fast way to connect with a licensed professional. 

Takeaway

Adolescent egocentrism can feel challenging for parents. However, it may be a natural phase that will pass with time. If you find managing your child's behavior overly demanding, consider connecting with a licensed counselor for guidance. 

Adolescence can be a challenging life stage

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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